10.29.2018

Reykjavik and close by. October 29, 2018

Woke up in one of the more comfortable beds I've slept in and went downstairs in the Canopy Hilton to have a filling breakfast. Today we visited places like a church in the middle of the city. a fishing village a few minutes away from the capitol, a botanical garden, and even stopped at a Bonus grocery store (Bonus is the actual name) to compare prices with the same stuff we might buy at home. We haven't gone out to the big stuff yet, like the glaciers, the waterfalls, the Blue Lagoon or the Golden Circle. We start on the cool itinerary tomorrow. I guess the rationale was to get our "sea legs" under us and not push too hard after everyone's long travel days and the Saturday night with no sleep.

Last night, after dinner, I put on my coat and went out for a walk through the downtown area where I found the lovely display above and the fun marketing posters just below. The top is just exterior signage and props for a bar but the image below is advertising for Mink Studios. Apparently the business has many viking props and customers can choose various scenarios and be photographed in Viking Character and take home prints of their inner Viking self. I love it. It's just what folks used to do in Texas when big instant films were all the rage. Not the Viking thing but the dress up, period regalia; only in Texas it was always cowboy hats and chaps or dresses with bustles.



I don't have much else to say except that stories about the prices in Iceland being breathtaking were both true and false. A steak in a nice restaurant here will run to $50 but there are steak houses in Austin where prime ribeyes can run to $125, and a $50 (good) steak is the high average. Mixed drinks and wine are about 50% higher than what I see in good places in Austin while the price I paid for a decent mixed drink in one of the smaller U.S. towns I recently visited was about 50% lower than Austin prices, so I guess when it comes to alcohol it's all location and  context. Prices on some things in Reykjavik can be expensive but the place is heralded as the top tourist destination for international travel so I guess the Icelanders are making hay while the sun shines. Nobody seems to be complaining about it... For meals that come out of my pocket I'm not economizing and they end up being on par with what we pay at home.

But let's talk cameras for a few sentences. I could not have made a better choice (for me and my tolerance to carry and use cameras right now) than the Panasonic G9 and the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro lens. The combination is light enough to carry around and the results can be tremendous. I do find myself reaching for the Pana/Leica 15mm f1.7 when the light starts to drop. It's turned out to be a surprising lens for me because, in the past, I've never warmed up to medium wide focal lengths. The size and build of the lens just beg one to use it all the time and the results so far exceed the stuff I read on sites like that of Lloyd Chambers, and others, that I no longer believe any reviewer who hasn't put a lens on a test bench and put it through its paces. 

The other great lens for walking around at night is the Sigma 30mm f1.4. It's super sharp and the fast aperture is the difference between being able to shoot handheld after dark, or not. Finally, I'm glad I upgraded my Apple laptop for the WP Engine show I did back in late September because it's easy to pack, fast as lightning, and the retina display is making me smile every time I look at it. 

That's all I've got today on cameras and gear but I do have an observation on winter wear. I brought along a jacket that's warm and weather proof. It's funny because the brand name is: Weatherproof. I felt comfortable bringing it along instead of rushing out and buying something North Face-y or 66 Degrees because it's the same jacket I took to Toronto last year and it stood up to 10 degrees Farenheit for several hours at a time and never left me shivering. Today it handled temperatures around freezing and weather that included rain, snow and sleet all in the course of our eight hour outing. It's funny because it's a coat I picked up on a whim at Costco.com a few years back for the princely sum of $39. So much for cost as a determiner of performance.... 

We're up earlier tomorrow so we can get some driving done. For those of you who've been to Iceland I thought I'd tell you we are heading to Vik in the south part of the island and then into the interior. I just heard that one of my favorite Vloggers, James Popsys, is also here in Iceland and I hope to run into him. His YouTube channel is unpretentious and fun. And he shoots with a Panasonic G9. 

The only downside of the trip so far? I miss Studio Dog. I've been looking for souvenirs to bring back for her. Haven't found anything yet but it's early times. 

All the people on the photo tour are really nice and we've had some great meals together. They are also not too, too chatty in the van. A nice quality all around. 

Big socks and tough boots tomorrow! Be well and keep reading. Comments always welcome.

































yes. I know. I'm not a landscape shooter but I'm learning, honest.

10.28.2018

Just in case you were worried... I made it in one piece and we landed ONE HOUR early. Hello Reykjavik.


It's pretty typical for inexpensive flights to arrive in Reykjavik first thing in the morning. Nowhere near the crack of dawn; instead, think 6:00 am. The KEF airport was abosutely packed with people coming in and going out at that hour. Customs and immigration was quick, easy and good natured. I stopped by the duty free shop (taking advice read on many, many websites...) to get a bottle of very good Icelandic vodka. It's called, "Volcanic Vodka" and it's really good. The idea is that if you are a person who wants an occasional nightcap or a quiet drink while typing a blog post you might want to take advantage of the low prices at duty free as the per drink price at a nice hotel in Reykjavik might run to $20 USD per drink at the bar. Or about the price of a bottle of premium vodka from the airport shop...

There are about 8 eight people in our group, not counting the tour director and the driver/guide. We have our own Mercedes Sprinter van to travel around in but everyone's first day obstacle in an early arrival is what to do after the plane arrives (6 am) but before your hotel room is available for check in. We visited Viking World to see a replica viking boat. We visited the Perlan Museum to mostly go up to the observation deck for great views of the city then we toured the city and had a great lunch.

But you can only go so far on no sleep and we were all quite happy when we finally checked into the Canopy Hilton (a wonderful hotel, one of the my favorites from the last 30 years!!!) and collapse onto a bed. I bucked the tradition of trying to power my way through the day in hopes of sleeping through the night. I hit the bed as soon as I checked in and unpacked. I set an alarm for three hours, got up, showered, shaved and headed downstairs to one of the better dinners I've had in a while. We started with an Arctic char, headed on to a grilled lamb with vegatables, and finished up with a nice chocolate mousse. The group was lively and the discussions about photography were first rate.

I shot a bit today but was exhausted from both my last two weeks of shooting non-stop and my 24 hours of sleeplessness.

The child in the image above was throwing a tantrum and trying to incite his (very calm) parents by taking off his gloves and forcefully throwing them away. I smiled at him and he started showing off. I asked his parent if I could photograph him and they agreed. I love the image. It's my favorite one of Iceland so far. (Lumix g9, Olympus 12-100mm). Who needs glaciers who you have toddlers in snowsuits?

Off to sleep. Tomorrow really starts our big adventure.

10.27.2018

Now that it's too late to add or subtract gear, what did I end up packing?

from "Hairspray" at Zach Theatre.

Unless you are much, much more brilliant than I'll ever be the process of packing seems always to be fraught with regrets and misgivings. I wish I could be a modern photographer (equipment wise) but have the travel services of the golden age of travel, when people could travel with giant "steamer" trunks and be followed through train stations and airports by legions of baggage handlers. If that were the case I'd take along everything photographic that I own in case I had a passing whim to pull some esoteric lens out of its velvet lined case and use it once or twice. Sadly, this is a possibility only for those with deeper pockets than mines, in current times.

After using the G9s for the past two weeks, on a daily basis, over and over again, it was a foregone conclusion that I would be taking them as my primary shooting cameras. There was a bit of hesitation last night as I looked fondly at the GH5S and it's lovely color palette but my newly acquired, intimate knowledge of the G9s pushed them to the front of the line. And, of course, batteries....

Now, here is where you'll probably disagree with me but I decided to leave the Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 at home. It was a tradeoff between how much I could carry and how much use I thought I might get out of the longer selection of focal lengths. I know, I know, it's an exquisite lens and I'll regret not having it at some point but there are times I also regret not having a 100 megapixel Phase One system as well.  I'm sure I'll get over it....

Since I forfeited the longer focal lengths that helped me get off the fence on my primary zoom lens. I decided on the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro over the Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm f2.8-4.0 because the Olympus lens gives me an extra 40mm of reach, is a known super star and has proven itself to me in many more situations than I've been able to cover with the Panasonic/Leica. The new guy gets left behind until it shows me some aspect where it's the better choice. The one thing that kept the new lens in the running was the lower weight...

Once those decisions were made everything else fell into place. I needed the Panasonic 8-18mm because wide is good for landscape stuff and near/far effects. 

After I pulled in the heavy hitters I added a few lenses for play. My choices for this adventure? The Sigma 30mm f1.4 and the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 (small, light and dual I.S.+ sharp) and finally, the Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN. 

So, there you have it. Lenses for personal work that fit in a small bag and won't tweak my back. When you get tired and haven't slept in a while every pound makes a difference. Go lighter to go further.

I'm happy with my choices and writing about them allowed me to while away the waiting time. Now it's time to check a bag. Happy days!

Ah. The JF"catch-22". Making waiting akin to punishment.

I hate waiting but I hate being late even worse. It's one of those personality quirks. So, I got to the Austin airport and approached a SkyCap to curb check my luggage (I'm heading to Iceland today) and get everything squared away.

The guy behind the counter gave me the sad news. Since my layover exceeded six hours in JFK he could only check the bags to there. They'd have to be collected in baggage claim, re-checked for my next flight, and I'd have to go back through security again. No problem.

But when I got to NY I asked an agent to check my bags and he informed me that they have no way to store baggage for longer than..... six hours....and that I would have to wait from 12:30pm till 3:05pm before I could check my (one) bag. I'd have to drag my suitcase around with me until then.

But where's the Catch-22? Well, all the seating and good food is inside the security perimeter but until you check your checked luggage you can't go through security. But all the seating and decent food is inside the security zone/departure area and you can't go through there until you check your bags and we're right back to the six hour exclusion period.

In 25 minutes I'll (theoretically) be able to check in the bag and proceed to the TSA check point.

It's gray, cold and murky in NYC. Instead of standing in a giant, crowded ticketing area (absolutely bereft of seats) I decided to take the Air Trans tour of the entire airport. I dragged the bag along and got on the Air Trans, which is mostly intended to take travelers to connecting terminals. Pretty bleak for tourism, but then airport tourism was never high on my bucket list.

I think from now on I'll try to make my own travel arrangements rather than leaving it up to someone else. After two weeks of tight schedules and (Yikes) eighteen flights across the Southeast U.S. my tolerance for schedule slop is pretty minuscule.

Looking for a little silver lining, I did bring along the cookies they gave me on my last flight. I think I'll eat them now......

And, by the way, today is my birthday. Happy to have made it to 63 and hoping to get a few more good decades in..... I'd like to end up setting the record for the oldest working photographer. But not if I have to spend those decades waiting to check my luggage....

10.26.2018

Kirk finds out just how much impact it takes to kill a Godox AD200.....


Well. I'm not as smart as I thought I was and now I've gone and destroyed one of my favorite flashes. I had my Godox AD 200 attached to a 2x3 foot softbox and the assemblage was sitting on top of a light stand, about ten feet above the ground. We were in an equipment yard using giant earth movers as backgrounds for a series of environmental portraits.

There was a very slight breeze so I made sure to weight the light stand with something heavy. I always bring along a bungee cord in my light case so I used my Think Tank camera backpack as a sandbag. I figured the 15 -20 pounds would make a good anchor; a hedge against the random wind gust.

I was also using a 4x4 foot diffuser to keep direct sun off my subjects. That was weighted down with a 30 pound steel pipe. It wasn't going anywhere. But I missed my guess with the lighting unit's safety.

Of course accidents always seem to happen in slow motion if you aren't fast enough to get to the spot and grab the light stand before it hits the ground...

I was too far away when I noticed it's acceleration toward hard dirt covered in more powdery dirt. The light hit squarely on the back end where the little control panel lived. It's a spider web cracked piece of dead plastic now. Amazingly, the flash still worked and we used it for another 400 or 500 images before I was finished at the location. I tested the light today and it still fires and still receives commands and triggering signals from the remote in the hot shoe. I just can't use it without the remote.

Sending it back to the manufacturer for repairs probably makes no sense at all since I'd have to pay shipping in two directions and it will probably take a lot of time to get everything done and turned around.  I guess I'll hop online when I get back in town and get another one. They pack down well and put out enough power to go toe to toe with the full sun. They also do HSS with the remote and my Panasonic cameras. That's a nice feature to have.

Maybe they'll have a sale....... just a bit of wishful thinking.....

Here's the main light with the backpack as ballast. I was working out of the rental car; 
A Nissan Rogue. I put 4.5 miles on it yesterday....

Here's the standard configuration for my use of the AD200.

If the sun is out then my Chimera diffusion scrim is along for the ride. Gotta keep the harsh 
shadows off the "talent." 

It's impractical to fly with enough sandbags so you get into the practice of finding 
good substitutes at your locations. Two days ago we used a bungee cord and a log to 
secure a stand with a diffuser on it. Today it's a metal stanchion. 

I should have used a metal stanchion or big steel pipe on this set up but I thought 20 pounds of backpack would do the trick. I was wrong again....

Here's the basic set up. Just add the talent and you are good to go. 
I usually try to construct short lighting. It's the most flattering.

Stuff wears out. Sometimes gravity wears it out a lot quicker.

But when everything goes well it's a nice, quick field technique...

©2018 Kirk Tuck. Do not reproduce.

How to be a (mostly) happy photographer. From my point of view.



I have a lot of friends and clients who ask me (seriously) why I always have a smile on my face and always seem......pretty happy. Well, at this point in my life I think I have a few things figured out and I thought I'd share my perspective. 

The first thing I thought of beyond the personal stuff (like falling in love with the right future spouse or living in a city that makes it hard to fail) is loving what you do. I know, I know, we all love photography but if you are making a living at it do you love the stuff that surrounds taking the photos? Do you like meeting with clients? Do you like collaborating? Do you like experimenting? Do you like telling stories? Do you like figuring out what to use to make a great shot? Do you love it when you absolutely nail a shot? I can honestly say yes to all of the above. I love having lunch with favorite clients, working as a tight team with an advertising agency counterpart, etc. I don't even mind the parts of travel that most people hate....

Loving what I do takes so much stress out of my life and the feeling of mastery I finally have gives me deep satisfaction. That I have figured out how to charge people for it isn't just the "icing on the cake" it's an integral part of the process. So, to be happy you have to love your day to day work. In addition to that I would say that there is much inherent happiness in charting and following your own course. Working for anybody else comes with restrictions, different expectations and compromise. All of which I encounter with clients but I always have the ability to walk away from toxic clients and still pay the bills at the end of the month...Happiness, to a certain extent, is based on being existentially unencumbered. But socially well attached.

To love an ever changing visual profession I think you need to be ever curious. Being curious leads you to question conventional wisdom and to experiment for yourself. While changing cameras all the time drives linear thinkers on web forums batty I think continually seeing how diverse tools influence your thinking, your approach to making photographs and your approach to the job of making photographs is amply rewarded by understanding how to do the craft you love in a zillion different ways rather than being like an ox in a yoke, traveling around in a circle. How do you really know which camera will make you happiest (remembering that this is our goal) if you don't give some of them a try. Happiness is finally coming to the realization that you could do good work with any camera you put in your hands so you get to play with as many as you'd like. But it's the mastery over the equipment (and rejecting the presumed need to follow the herd) that creates more happiness. Grab cameras and use them until you know what you like and then get that and use it. Not happy with the camera? Try another one. They are relatively cheap for most people.
finding your own idea of beauty wherever you look.

Happy photographers are not the photographers who only pick up the camera if there is a purchase order or job involved. Since the very act of creating is fulfilling and positive it stands to reason that doing it more and more often will lead to more happiness. I combine my love of people with my love of photographing people, and when I connect person-to-person as well as photographer-to-subject it makes my work better and gives me another profoundly nice layer of happiness. In many ways the act of making portraits is really the act of making friends. The more friends one has the happier most people are. A subset of benefits to making portraits all the time is that you develop a subconscious process for discovering beauty. Your completely subjective idea of beauty. I love to identify something that I think is unusual beauty instead of obvious beauty. You won't find many brash, chesty blonde hot babes in my portfolio or my personal work but you will find lots of people who have an unusual aspect of beauty or a manifestation of grace that I work hard to bring into photographs. It's often an imperfection or a variance from routine perfection that I find stunningly beautiful. Looking for, and finding beauty in the life around us is another source of.....happiness.  Appreciating beauty as you have come to define it is a happy undertaking.

Drinking good coffee makes me happy but it's not all about the chemistry of the beverage. For me, drinking coffee means going someplace to find good coffee and then surrounding myself with friends and sharing, talking, and supporting each other. Life is already solitary enough. Taking a break to check in with close friends, and to meet new friends, makes one.....happy. Doing it over better coffee makes one more happy.

Simple moments of beauty make me smile and smiling makes me happier. Knowing that nature is in flux always leads me to walk and savor it; to see it change in front of me. It gives me an excuse to go outside and be part of the whole. Feeling the Seasons and making photographs that remind me of something like a cool Autumn day in the north makes me appreciate my tenure on the planet. And, generally, that makes me happy. It's bittersweet knowing that everything ends but knowing that I am in it now is wonderful and worth appreciating.


Which leads me to the idea that having a little faith (not necessarily religion) that everything is working as it should and as it will takes away stress and uncertainty and gives me the confidence to plunge into new projects. I have faith that they'll work out, faith that even if the projects fail they'll add to my store of ideas, my experience and even my character. But most stuff works out. And people who have no faith in the universe, or themselves, never start out on uncertain projects and never get to see their way to a beautiful resolution. I have faith that life will unspool in random and chaotic ways but that there will always be a pattern in the chaos. Nothing I can do will change or do much to hamper the chaos but I rely on my faith that order exists in chaos, even if I don't understand it.  

If you want to be a happy photographer then learn to celebrate your victories, no matter how small they may seem. It's the small things that are seeds to bigger achievement and bigger ideas. When a meeting goes well I might celebrate with a cookie. When I win a bid I celebrate by going for a walk. When a job goes well I might take the family out for dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant. When I finally get the tax return done I might take a weekend vacation with Belinda. If, every time a shot goes well you just .... smile and feel satisfaction it reinforces and builds happiness. 

I spent part of last week hiking around in the Tennessee hills and valleys. Today I was in the middle of the Everglades in Florida. By Sunday I'll be walking around looking at stuff in Reykjavik (probably in a bit of drizzle) in each case I have a camera in my hand as I watch new scenes unfold in front of me. I decide what to shoot and what to pass by. I linger on stuff that resonates with me. But I guess my point is that I've conspired to make my job a catalyst for getting off my ass, out from in front of my computer screen and moving. Always moving. Life is motion. The more you move the happier you are. Hiking, walking through long airport corridors, climbing mountains or walking through cities that are new to me --- it's all about motion and motion is happiness. That's why I walk and that's why I swim.

If you want to be happy you need to have a broad enough perspective in order to reject small minded ideas. Traveling can give you a much broader understanding for difference, diversity and the potential of people who have constructed societies that work. Happy people live longer, travel more and learn all the time; mostly through new experiences and exposure to new people. If you want to be happy then get off the office chair and come up with a good reason to travel. It doesn't have to be far. It would be a mind expanding experience for some people in tightly cosseted neighborhoods just to drive across town and sit in a coffee shop that caters to a different demographic. I lived in Turkey for two years of my younger life, have traveled to 18 other countries for work and play and am about to embark on a trip to Iceland and then, a few weeks later, over to the United Kingdom. I learn a bit more with every trip but the biggest lesson is that we need to stop making our nationalism a tool of division and to embrace the best of every culture. The world seems more homogenous because products seem more and more the same across borders and the internet keeps shrinking (or expanding?) the social communication space but it's the face to face encounters that humanize us to our neighbors and vice versa. And that's a good thing.


If you want to be really happy then go fall in love. Be careful because the idea of love can be a two edged sword; exhilarating when it's good and excruciating if it turns bad. Be as careful finding a person as you are finding a camera system....well, maybe even more so because you probably won't find as many opportunities to "trade systems" and  g"upgrading" gets REALLY, REALLY expensive. As my friend, Mike, used to say: "Every time I get divorced I cut my net worth in half and my life expectancy by another two years...." Seriously though, a good partner who understands that you take photographs not because you want to but because you love to and feel like it's an important part of your life, will enhance your happiness and reduce your levels of distraction year after year. And, it's vital to have someone wonderful to share all those victories, successes and milestones with. Lonely success is no success at all...
Want to be happy with your work? Don't do anything exactly the same way twice. If you're not taking chances then you are just going through the motions and you might as well be a banker, lawyer or car mechanic (my preference would be car mechanic, but only on old cars that require....creativity). Seriously, as soon as I get a lighting design down and do it for a day I'm ready to move on a try something new; even if it's just a nuance-y sort of change. It's swimming without a life jacket on that makes the swimming fun. A relentless focus on making technique better match your vision. I'm always working on technique because I know it's always more important than the gear.

Put your stuff out there. No project ever feels completely finished. There's always one more thing you could be polishing. But at some point you just need to take a stiff drink (literally or metaphorically) and put your work out to your audience. They can love it or hate it but you've already made yourself happy by doing the process; the  sharing is just a way of acknowledging that you are moving on to the next thing. The next process, the next dose of happy creativity.


Wanna be happy? Don't go so fast. Be prepared to slow down and experience stuff instead of racing to meet self-imposed obligations and deadlines. I was driving back from somewhere when I saw this field of flowers. At first I drove on by at 60 mph. About a half a mile down the road I gave myself permission to modify my schedule and to go spend an hour just savoring and experiencing field after field of beautiful flowers growing near the highway in the middle of central Texas. It was wonderful and the photo makes me smile every time I look at it. I like flowers but I like reminders of my own freedom even more. A good photograph can remind you of the time you decided to stop and savor something instead of rushing back to the office just to do more stuff. Endless stuff makes me unhappy.


If you want to be happy you need to figure out how to save money. The more money you save the more bad assignments and the more bad clients you can afford to turn down. And when you turn down bad clients you leave more space for the good ones to step in. You become accessible and you become sought after. The money helps you be a better critic of work. Yours, your potential clients and everyone else out there. Fear of running out of money ruins happiness and creativity. Security brings with it the freedom to do things your way or jot collaborate with people who respect your vision and talent. They'll see you as a creator instead of an order filler. You'll all feel better. Money in the bank means being able to do your own work or to chill out and take a break when you've done a lot of good work in a short amount of time. You do it by saving a little all the time. By not buying crazy stuff. By not living beyond your means. I don't buy stuff unless I can afford to do so without hitting my savings, my overall cash flow or making me uncomfortable and leaving me at the mercy of fear and predatory clients. Cash in the bank (metaphorically) is a win.


To Summarize:

Love to work on your work.

Be in love for the long run.

Take care of yourself with good food and exercise and you'll be able to carry cameras further, look at more stuff and have more enjoyable experiences with the process of photography.

Save your money. Stop grabbing for the shiny stuff and live beneath your means, you might need the money more in the future than Nikon or Canon need it today. Always remember what my friend, Heidi (professor of accounting at UT) once said to me:

Compound interest can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

Make friends wherever you go. Go wherever you can make friends.

To be a happy photographer photograph the things you love. Subject is the essence of photography. Photography doesn't exist without subjects.

Travel broadens the mind (and the heart). Travel expands your portfolio. 

Don't wait for some better, future self to come along and do great work. The only way to a better, future self is by settling in and doing the good work right now.

Love subjects more than cameras. 

Love people more than work. 

If you do this for money then work hard to find the joy and value in everything you photograph.

For the ultimate in happiness just keep reading Kirk's blog.....(okay, that was just a joke).

The only way to have more happiness is to decide to have more happiness. 

It starts with a smile.



May life give you many licks on the face.

I'll gladly walk a mile in another man's shoes.....if they are size 10 Ahnus.

Live well. But a red car? Hmmm. Why not?

Love where you live, or move.

Cameras are fun. Just remember why we have them.

If you swim everyday then.....

...every once in a while it's okay to have one of these.

Few things make the process of post production happier than a good custom white balance before you snap that frame.

Learn from classical art. 

Eat lots of fun food. Whole food. Happy food.


And, if you are sitting in first class, always remember when you too used to fly economy.

That's all I've got. Happiness.